Tennessee: ‘No holding hands’ in sex ed class

“Spurred by a classroom demonstration involving a sex toy,” Tennessee has barred teachers from promoting “gateway sexual activity,” reports CBS News. Critics call it the “no holding-hands bill.

Tennessee’s teen pregnancy rate “has dropped steadily since the first abstinence-focused sex education curriculum was put in place in the 1990s,” but remains one of the highest in the nation.

Parents, grade thyself

Tennessee may ask parents to sign a school-involvement contract and grade their own effort, writes Lucas L. Johnson II in the Huffington Post. But parents who “fail” will suffer no consequences.

Under Tennessee’s contract legislation, parents in each school district are asked to sign a document agreeing to review homework and attend school functions or teacher conferences, among other things. Since it’s voluntary, there’s no penalty for failing to uphold the contract – but advocates say simply providing a roadmap for involvement is an important step.

Michigan has enacted a similar measure.

In the case of Tennessee’s report card proposal, a four-year pilot program will be set up involving two of Tennessee’s struggling schools. Parents of students in kindergarten through third grade will be given a blank report card at the same time as the students, and the parents will do a self-evaluation of their involvement in activities similar to those in the parental contract. Parents will give themselves a grade of excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory

Utah will ask parents to evaluate their involvement in an online survey.  Louisiana is considering legislation to grade parent participation.

 

‘Race’ states go off reform track

Race to the Top winners are veering off the reform track, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on states to make good on their commitments under its Race to the Top competition, after all 12 winners either scaled down plans or pushed back timelines to overhaul their public-education systems.

Hawaii, which has delayed almost every part of its reform plan, could lose its $75 million grant, the Education Department warns.  The state has been unable to reach a deal with the teachers’ union.

The Education Department has approved scores of waiver requests, including allowances for Massachusetts to delay plans to develop online courses for teacher mentors and for Rhode Island to push back plans to open more charter schools. Some states, including Florida, got sidetracked by overly optimistic target dates to hire contractors for developing student data systems or to create mathematical formulas for linking teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Tennessee is pushing ahead with a plan to link teacher evaluations to value-added data on their students’ progress, despite complaints that the system makes no sense for teachers in untested subjects and grades. A few “tweaks” will fix the problems, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

NEA spent $133 million to lobby, aid allies

The National Education Association spent $133 million on lobbying and supporting allies, reports Dropout Nation.

Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality collected $318,848 from the union; the progressive Economic Policy Institute got $255,000 and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (“a leading advocate for the charter schools the NEA opposes so virulently,” notes DN) received $40,000.

The usual suspects are also on the list: Communities for Quality Education, which has long been subsidized by the NEA, collected $1 million in 2010-2011. Anti-testing group FairTest picked up $35,000 this time around. . . .  Meanwhile the NEA directly poured $43,000 into the Save Our Schools rally held this past July; this doesn’t include dollars poured in by state and local affiliates.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel made $460,060, a 16 percent increase over the previous year; Lily Eskelson, was paid $371,904, a 14 percent increase.

The NEA collected $399 million in dues and other revenues in 2010-2011, nearly the same as the previous year, despite a 4 percent decline in membership.

Teachers’ unions are likely to lose members and dues in states that have passed anti-union measures. In Tennessee, which limited the union’s bargaining power, teachers are leaving the union.  Wisconsin’s teachers’ union was forced to lay off 40 percent of its staff.

Teacher evaluation: Not ready for prime time?

An early Race to the Top winner, Tennessee is requiring schools to evaluate teachers by value-added test scores and principal observations. The new evaluation system is complex, confusing and a huge time suck for principals, reports the New York Times.

Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.

The state is tweaking rules to cut principals’ paperwork burden.  But principals complain it’s not enough.

. . .  (Principal Will) Shelton is required to have a pre-observation conference with each teacher (which takes 20 minutes), observe the teacher for a period (50 minutes), conduct a post-observation conference (20 minutes), and fill out a rubric with 19 variables and give teachers a score from 1 to 5 (40 minutes).

He must have copies of his evaluations ready for any visit by a county evaluator, who evaluates whether Mr. Shelton has properly evaluated the teachers.

 Shelton must observe his 65 teachers four times a year, whether they’re his best or weakest staffers.

In Florida, evaluation formulas are so complex, even the math teachers can’t figure it out.

The formula—in what is called a “value-added” model—tries to determine a teacher’s effect on a student’s FCAT performance by predicting what that student should score in a given year, and then rating the teacher on whether the student hits, misses or surpasses the mark.

But (calculus teacher Orlando) Sarduy, like thousands of other Florida teachers, doesn’t even teach a subject assessed by the FCAT. So his value-added score will not come from his math teaching or his particular students. Instead, it will be tied to the FCAT reading score of his entire school in South Dade—a notion that infuriates him, even though he appreciates the level of objectivity the new system brings, and the ways it strives to isolate a teacher’s impact on student learning.

Some performance-pay experiments have rewarded teachers and support staff for improvements in the whole school, rather than trying to measure each person’s contribution. The idea is that everydone does their bit in raising those reading scores, including the music teacher and the janitor. But when the stakes are high, people want to be rated on measures they control.  And it’s hard work to evalute teachers fairly.

Teach for America outperforms in Tennessee

Teach for America teachers in Memphis and Nashville outperformed both experienced and new teachers, according to a state report card on teacher training. Teachers trained at Nashville’s Lipscomb University also did well.

Nine teacher training programs, including Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee-Martin, Middle Tennessee State and the Memphis Teacher Residency were cited for failing to compete with the quality of new teachers from other programs.

Memphis Teacher Residency, which recruits college graduates from other careers, posted low scores for high school teachers but relatively high scores for teachers in grades four through eight.  

 

States link $ to college performance

States are linking dollars to college performance. In most states, not much money is involved, but Tennessee plans to base 90 percent of funding on students’ outcomes.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Hit with funding cuts, community colleges are getting creative to raise money and cut spending.

That $5 billion to repair community college buildings should be spent to forgive the interest on student loans, a dean writes.

Proficient in Texas, but not in Missouri

Most states don’t match federal proficiency standards for elementary math and reading, a new federal report concludes.

Eight states have raised standards in recent years. South Carolina has lowered its standards, though the new superintendent pledges to raise the bar.

The National Center for Education Statistics compares state requirements to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

In fourth-grade reading, for example, 35 states set passing bars that are below the “basic” level on the national NAEP exam. “Basic” means students have a satisfactory understanding of material, as opposed to “proficient,” which means they have a solid grasp of it. Massachusetts is the only state to set its bar at “proficient”—and that was only in fourth- and eighth-grade math.

The report shows huge disparities among the standards states set when their tests are converted to the NAEP’s 500-point scale. In eighth-grade reading, for example, there is a 60-point difference between Texas, which has the lowest passing bar, and Missouri, which has the highest, according to the data. In eighth-grade math, there is a 71-point spread between the low, Tennessee, and the high, Massachusetts.

A Tennessee eighth grader could be considered proficient without being able to read a graph, while a Massachusetts student meeting the proficiency benchmark “would likely be able to solve a math problem using algebra and geometry.”

Proficient in Texas, but not in Missouri

Most states don’t match federal proficiency standards for elementary math and reading, a new federal report concludes.

Eight states have raised standards in recent years.  South Carolina has lowered its standards, though the new superintendent pledges to raise the bar.

The National Center for Education Statistics compares state requirements to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

In fourth-grade reading, for example, 35 states set passing bars that are below the “basic” level on the national NAEP exam. “Basic” means students have a satisfactory understanding of material, as opposed to “proficient,” which means they have a solid grasp of it. Massachusetts is the only state to set its bar at “proficient”—and that was only in fourth- and eighth-grade math.

The report shows huge disparities among the standards states set when their tests are converted to the NAEP’s 500-point scale. In eighth-grade reading, for example, there is a 60-point difference between Texas, which has the lowest passing bar, and Missouri, which has the highest, according to the data. In eighth-grade math, there is a 71-point spread between the low, Tennessee, and the high, Massachusetts.

A Tennessee eighth grader could be considered proficient without being able to read a graph, while a Massachusetts student meeting the proficiency benchmark “would likely be able to solve a math problem using algebra and geometry.”

 

College grads start at $36,000

One year after earning a bachelor’s degree, the average employed graduate earns $36,000. The average lifetime value of a college degree is $570,000 on an average $102,000 investment, estimates Brookings’ Hamilton Project. The field makes a big difference: A degree in engineering can add $1 million in earnings over a lifetime while a degree in education can add $241,000, conclude Georgetown researchers.

Also on Community College Spotlight: A Tennessee college is training chemical workers for a huge new German-owned plant.